J. S. Fletcher: The Paradise Mystery

Джо­зеф Смит Флет­чер (Joseph Smith Fletcher, 1863-1935) — один из из­вест­ней­ших пи­са­те­лей "зо­ло­то­го века" ан­глий­ской ли­те­ра­ту­ры, по­да­рив­ший миру более двух­сот книг. Роман "The Paradise Mystery" (Тайна рай­ско­го сада) был на­пи­са­на в 1921 году и ин­те­ре­сен для нас тем, что дей­ствие там про­ис­хо­дит в Ро­че­стер­ском ка­фед­раль­ном со­бо­ре и на цер­ков­ном по­дво­рье, а живут герои ро­ма­на в той же самой квар­ти­ре, какую в "Тайне Эдви­на Друда" за­ни­мал ка­но­ник Кри­спаркл. По­ми­мо пре­крас­но­го опи­са­ния окрест­но­стей со­бо­ра в пер­вых аб­за­цах тек­ста, чи­та­те­ля без­услов­но по­ра­ду­ют зна­ко­мые по ро­ма­ну Дик­кен­са ти­па­жи и де­та­ли сю­же­та — влюб­лен­ная пара мо­ло­дых людей и их опе­кун, по­до­зре­ва­е­мый в убий­стве, на­сто­я­тель со­бо­ра и ка­но­ни­ки, ка­ме­но­тёс, зав­тра­ка­ю­щий су­ха­рем из узел­ка, сидя на мо­гиль­ном камне, про­пав­ший незна­ко­мец и мно­гое дру­гое.

CHAP­TER I. ONLY THE GUARDIAN



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MERICAN TOURISTS, sure ap­pre­ci­a­tors of all that is an­cient and pic­turesque in Eng­land, in­vari­ably come to a halt, hold­ing their breath in a sud­den catch of won­der, as they pass through the half-ru­inous gate­way which ad­mits to the Close of Wrychester. Nowhere else in Eng­land is there a fairer prospect of old-world peace. There be­fore their eyes, set in the cen­tre of a great green sward, fringed by tall elms and giant beeches, rises the vast fab­ric of the thir­teenth-cen­tury Cathe­dral, its high spire pierc­ing the skies in which rooks are for ever cir­cling and call­ing. The time-worn stone, at a lit­tle dis­tance del­i­cate as lace­work, is trans­formed at dif­fer­ent hours of the day into shift­ing shades of colour, vary­ing from grey to pur­ple: the mas­sive­ness of the great nave and transepts con­trasts im­pres­sively with the grad­ual ta­per­ing of the spire, ris­ing so high above tur­ret and clerestory that it at last be­comes a mere line against the ether. In morn­ing, as in af­ter­noon, or in evening, here is a per­pet­ual at­mos­phere of rest; and not around the great church alone, but in the quaint and an­cient houses which fence in the Close. Lit­tle less old than the mighty mass of stone on which their ivy-framed win­dows look, these houses make the ca­sual ob­server feel that here, if any­where in the world, life must needs run smoothly. Under those high gables, be­hind those mul­lioned win­dows, in the beau­ti­ful old gar­dens lying be­tween the stone porches and the elm-shad­owed lawn, noth­ing, one would think, could pos­si­bly exist but leisured and pleas­ant ex­is­tence: even the busy streets of the old city, out­side the crum­bling gate­way, seem, for the mo­ment, far off.

In one of the old­est of these houses, half hid­den be­hind trees and shrubs in a cor­ner of the Close, three peo­ple sat at break­fast one fine May morn­ing. The room in which they sat was in keep­ing with the old house and its sur­round­ings—a long, low-ceilinged room, with oak pan­elling around its walls, and oak beams across its roof—a room of old fur­ni­ture, and, old pic­tures, and old books, its an­tique at­mos­phere re­lieved by great masses of flow­ers, set here and there in old china bowls: through its wide win­dows, the case­ments of which were thrown wide open, there was an invit­ing prospect of a high-edged flower gar­den, and, seen in vis­tas through the trees and shrub­beries, of patches of the west front of the Cathe­dral, now som­bre and grey in shadow. But on the gar­den and into this flower-scented room the sun was shin­ing gaily through the trees, and mak­ing gleams of light on the sil­ver and china on the table and on the faces of the three peo­ple who sat around it.

Of these three, two were young, and the third was one of those men whose age it is never easy to guess—a tall, clean-shaven, bright-eyed, alert-look­ing man, good-look­ing in a clever, pro­fes­sional sort of way, a man whom no one could have taken for any­thing but a mem­ber of one of the learned call­ings. In some lights he looked no more than forty: a strong light be­trayed the fact that his dark hair had a streak of grey in it, and was show­ing a ten­dency to whiten about the tem­ples. A strong, in­tel­lec­tu­ally su­pe­rior man, this, scrupu­lously groomed and well-dressed, as be­fit­ted what he re­ally was—a med­ical prac­ti­tioner with an ex­cel­lent con­nec­tion amongst the ex­clu­sive so­ci­ety of a cathe­dral town. Around him hung an un­de­ni­able air of con­tent and pros­per­ity—as he turned over a pile of let­ters which stood by his plate, or glanced at the morn­ing news­pa­per which lay at his elbow, it was easy to see that he had no cares be­yond those of the day, and that they—so far as he knew then—were not likely to af­fect him greatly. See­ing him in these pleas­ant do­mes­tic cir­cum­stances, at the head of his table, with abun­dant ev­i­dences of com­fort and re­fine­ment and mod­est lux­ury about him, any one would have said, with­out hes­i­ta­tion, that Dr. Mark Rans­ford was un­de­ni­ably one of the for­tu­nate folk of this world.

The sec­ond per­son of the three was a boy of ap­par­ently sev­en­teen—a well-built, hand­some lad of the se­nior school­boy type, who was de­vot­ing him­self in busi­ness-like fash­ion to two widely-dif­fer­ing pur­suits—one, the con­sump­tion of eggs and bacon and dry toast; the other, the study of a Latin text­book, which he had propped up in front of him against the old-fash­ioned sil­ver cruet. His quick eyes wan­dered al­ter­nately be­tween his book and his plate; now and then he mut­tered a line or two to him­self. His com­pan­ions took no no­tice of these com­bi­na­tions of eat­ing and learn­ing: they knew from ex­pe­ri­ence that it was his way to make up at break­fast-time for the mo­ments he had stolen from his stud­ies the night be­fore.

It was not dif­fi­cult to see that the third mem­ber of the party, a girl of nine­teen or twenty, was the boy's sis­ter. Each had a wealth of brown hair, in­clin­ing, in the girl's case to a shade that had tints of gold in it; each had grey eyes, in which there was a mix­ture of blue; each had a bright, vivid colour; each was un­de­ni­ably good-look­ing and em­i­nently healthy. No one would have doubted that both had lived a good deal of an open-air ex­is­tence: the boy was al­ready mus­cu­lar and sinewy: the girl looked as if she was well ac­quainted with the ten­nis racket and the golf-stick. Nor would any one have made the mis­take of think­ing that these two were blood re­la­tions of the man at the head of the table—be­tween them and him there was not the least re­sem­blance of fea­ture, of colour, or of man­ner.

While the boy learnt the last lines of his Latin, and the doc­tor turned over the news­pa­per, the girl read a let­ter—ev­i­dently, from the large sprawl­ing hand­writ­ing, the mis­sive of some girl­ish cor­re­spon­dent. She was deep in it when, from one of the tur­rets of the Cathe­dral, a bell began to ring. At that, she glanced at her brother.

"There's Mar­tin, Dick!" she said. "You'll have to hurry."

Many a long year be­fore that, in one of the by­gone cen­turies, a wor­thy cit­i­zen of Wrychester, Mar­tin by name, had left a sum of money to the Dean and Chap­ter of the Cathe­dral on con­di­tion that as long as ever the Cathe­dral stood, they should cause to be rung a bell from its smaller bell-tower for three min­utes be­fore nine o'clock every morn­ing, all the year round. What Mar­tin's ob­ject had been no one now knew—but this bell served to re­mind young gen­tle­men going to of­fices, and boys going to school, that the hour of their servi­tude was near. And Dick Be­w­ery, with­out a word, bolted half his cof­fee, snatched up his book, grabbed at a cap which lay with more books on a chair close by, and van­ished through the open win­dow. The doc­tor laughed, laid aside his news­pa­per, and handed his cup across the table.

"I don't think you need bother your­self about Dick's ever being late, Mary," he said. "You are not quite aware of the power of legs that are only sev­en­teen years old. Dick could get to any given point in just about one-fourth of the time that I could, for in­stance—more­over, he has a cun­ning knowl­edge of every short cut in the city."

Mary Be­w­ery took the empty cup and began to re­fill it.

"I don't like him to be late," she re­marked. "It's the be­gin­ning of bad habits."

"Oh, well!" said Rans­ford in­dul­gently. "He's pretty free from any­thing of that sort, you know. I haven't even sus­pected him of smok­ing, yet."

"That's be­cause he thinks smok­ing would stop his growth and in­ter­fere with his cricket," an­swered Mary. "He would smoke if it weren't for that."

"That's giv­ing him high praise, then," said Rans­ford. "You couldn't give him higher! Know how to re­press his in­cli­na­tions. An ex­cel­lent thing—and most un­usual, I fancy. Most peo­ple—don't!"

He took his re­filled cup, rose from the table, and opened a box of cig­a­rettes which stood on the man­tel­piece. And the girl, in­stead of pick­ing up her let­ter again, glanced at him a lit­tle doubt­fully.

"That re­minds me of—of some­thing I wanted to say to you," she said. "You're quite right about peo­ple not re­press­ing their in­cli­na­tions. I—I wish some peo­ple would!"

Rans­ford turned quickly from the hearth and gave her a sharp look, be­neath which her colour height­ened. Her eyes shifted their gaze away to her let­ter, and she picked it up and began to fold it ner­vously. And at that Rans­ford rapped out a name, putting a quick sug­ges­tion of mean­ing in­quiry into his voice.

"Bryce?" he asked.

The girl nod­ded her face show­ing dis­tinct an­noy­ance and dis­like. Be­fore say­ing more, Rans­ford lighted a cig­a­rette.

"Been at it again?" he said at last. "Since last time?"

"Twice," she an­swered. "I didn't like to tell you—I've hated to bother you about it. But—what am I to do? I dis­like him in­tensely—I can't tell why, but it's there, and noth­ing could ever alter the feel­ing. And though I told him—be­fore—that it was use­less—he men­tioned it again—yes­ter­day—at Mrs. Fol­liot's gar­den-party."

"Con­found his im­pu­dence!" growled Rans­ford. "Oh, well!—I'll have to set­tle with him my­self. It's use­less tri­fling with any­thing like that. I gave him a quiet hint be­fore. And since he won't take it—all right!"

"But—what shall you do?" she asked anx­iously. "Not—send him away?"

"If he's any de­cency about him, he'll go—after what I say to him," an­swered Rans­ford. "Don't you trou­ble your­self about it—I'm not at all keen about him. He's a clever enough fel­low, and a good as­sis­tant, but I don't like him, per­son­ally—never did."

"I don't want to think that any­thing that I say should lose him his sit­u­a­tion—or what­ever you call it," she re­marked slowly. "That would seem—"

"No need to bother," in­ter­rupted Rans­ford. "He'll get an­other in two min­utes—so to speak. Any­way, we can't have this going on. The fel­low must be an ass! When I was young—"

He stopped short at that, and turn­ing away, looked out across the gar­den as if some rec­ol­lec­tion had sud­denly struck him.

"When you were young—which is, of course, such an aw­fully long time since!" said the girl, a lit­tle teas­ingly. "What?"

"Only that if a woman said No—un­mis­tak­ably—once, a man took it as final," replied Rans­ford. "At least—so I was al­ways given to be­lieve. Nowa­days—"

"You for­get that Mr. Pem­ber­ton Bryce is what most peo­ple would call a very push­ing young man," said Mary. "If he doesn't get what he wants in this world, it won't be for not ask­ing for it. But—if you must speak to him—and I re­ally think you must!—will you tell him that he is not going to get—me? Per­haps he'll take it fi­nally from you—as my guardian."

"I don't know if par­ents and guardians count for much in these de­gen­er­ate days," said Rans­ford. "But—I won't have him an­noy­ing you. And—I sup­pose it has come to an­noy­ance?"

"It's very an­noy­ing to be asked three times by a man whom you've told flatly, once for all, that you don't want him, at any time, ever!" she an­swered. "It's—ir­ri­tat­ing!"

"All right," said Rans­ford qui­etly. "I'll speak to him. There's going to be no an­noy­ance for you under this roof."

The girl gave him a quick glance, and Rans­ford turned away from her and picked up his let­ters.

"Thank you," she said. "But—there's no need to tell me that, be­cause I know it al­ready. Now I won­der if you'll tell me some­thing more?"

Rans­ford turned back with a sud­den ap­pre­hen­sion.

"Well?" he asked brusquely. "What?"

"When are you going to tell me all about—Dick and my­self?" she asked. "You promised that you would, you know, some day. And—a whole year's gone by since then. And—Dick's sev­en­teen! He won't be sat­is­fied al­ways—just to know no more than that our fa­ther and mother died when we were very lit­tle, and that you've been guardian—and all that you have been!—to us. Will he, now?"

Rans­ford laid down his let­ters again, and thrust­ing his hands in his pock­ets, squared his shoul­ders against the man­tel­piece. "Don't you think you might wait until you're twenty-one?" he asked.

"Why?" she said, with a laugh. "I'm just twenty—do you re­ally think I shall be any wiser in twelve months? Of course I shan't!"

"You don't know that," he replied. "You may be—a great deal wiser."

"But what has that got to do with it?" she per­sisted. "Is there any rea­son why I shouldn't be told—every­thing?"

She was look­ing at him with a cer­tain amount of de­mand—and Rans­ford, who had al­ways known that some mo­ment of this sort must in­evitably come, felt that she was not going to be put off with or­di­nary ex­cuses. He hes­i­tated—and she went on speak­ing.

"You know," she con­tin­ued, al­most plead­ingly. "We don't know any­thing—at all. I never have known, and until lately Dick has been too young to care—"

"Has he begun ask­ing ques­tions?" de­manded Rans­ford hastily.

"Once or twice, lately—yes," replied Mary. "It's only nat­ural." She laughed a lit­tle—a forced laugh. "They say," she went on, "that it doesn't mat­ter, nowa­days, if you can't tell who your grand­fa­ther was—but, just think, we don't know who our fa­ther was—ex­cept that his name was John Be­w­ery. That doesn't con­vey much."

"You know more," said Rans­ford. "I told you—al­ways have told you—that he was an early friend of mine, a man of busi­ness, who, with your mother, died young, and I, as their friend, be­came guardian to you and Dick. Is—is there any­thing much more that I could tell?"

"There's some­thing I should very much like to know—per­son­ally," she an­swered, after a pause which lasted so long that Rans­ford began to feel un­com­fort­able under it. "Don't be angry—or hurt—if I tell you plainly what it is. I'm quite sure it's never even oc­curred to Dick—but I'm three years ahead of him. It's this—have we been de­pen­dent on you?"

Rans­ford's face flushed and he turned de­lib­er­ately to the win­dow, and for a mo­ment stood star­ing out on his gar­den and the glimpses of the Cathe­dral. And just as de­lib­er­ately as he had turned away, he turned back.

"No!" he said. "Since you ask me, I'll tell you that. You've both got money—due to you when you're of age. It—it's in my hands. Not a great lot—but suf­fi­cient to—to cover all your ex­penses. Ed­u­ca­tion—every­thing. When you're twenty-one, I'll hand over yours—when Dick's twenty-one, his. Per­haps I ought to have told you all that be­fore, but—I didn't think it nec­es­sary. I—I dare say I've a ten­dency to let things slide."

"You've never let things slide about us," she replied quickly, with a sud­den glance which made him turn away again. "And I only wanted to know—be­cause I'd got an idea that—well, that we were owing every­thing to you."

"Not from me!" he ex­claimed.

"No—that would never be!" she said. "But—don't you un­der­stand? I—wanted to know—some­thing. Thank you. I won't ask more now."

"I've al­ways meant to tell you—a good deal," re­marked Rans­ford, after an­other pause. "You see, I can scarcely—yet—re­al­ize that you're both grow­ing up! You were at school a year ago. And Dick is still very young. Are—are you more sat­is­fied now?" he went on anx­iously. "If not—"

"I'm quite sat­is­fied," she an­swered. "Per­haps—some day—you'll tell me more about our fa­ther and mother?—but never mind even that now. You're sure you haven't minded my ask­ing—what I have asked?"

"Of course not—of course not!" he said hastily. "I ought to have re­mem­bered. And—but we'll talk again. I must get into the surgery—and have a word with Bryce, too."

"If you could only make him see rea­son and promise not to of­fend again," she said. "Wouldn't that solve the dif­fi­culty?"

Rans­ford shook his head and made no an­swer. He picked up his let­ters again and went out, and down a long stone-walled pas­sage which led to his surgery at the side of the house. He was alone there when he had shut the door—and he re­lieved his feel­ings with a deep groan.

"Heaven help me if the lad ever in­sists on the real truth and on hav­ing proofs and facts given to him!" he mut­tered. "I shouldn't mind telling her, when she's a bit older—but he wouldn't un­der­stand as she would. Any­way, thank God I can keep up the pleas­ant fic­tion about the money with­out her ever know­ing that I told her a de­lib­er­ate lie just now. But—what's in the fu­ture? Here's one man to be dis­missed al­ready, and there'll be oth­ers, and one of them will be the favoured man. That man will have to be told! And—so will she, then. And—my God! she doesn't see, and mustn't see, that I'm madly in love with her my­self! She's no idea of it—and she shan't have; I must—must con­tinue to be—only the guardian!"

He laughed a lit­tle cyn­i­cally as he laid his let­ters down on his desk and pro­ceeded to open them—in which oc­cu­pa­tion he was presently in­ter­rupted by the open­ing of the side-door and the en­trance of Mr. Pem­ber­ton Bryce.

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